In season two we saw the introduction of an actor of a rather cosmic nature – the Red Comet. A significant astronomical event, the Red Comet is visible across the two continents, and is interpreted in different ways by different groups. Winterfell takes it to accompany Robb’s successes in the battlefield, while other take its red colour to mean that House Lannister is on the way to large victories. Yet others see it as a symbol of Eddard Stark’s blood on the Lannisters’ hands. The captured wilding, Osha, tells little Bran that such a thing does not come for any man, but shines only for dragons…
Melisandre and Old Nan (in the books) also interpret the comet as being the harbinger of dragons.
This is a comet of uncommon size and brightness, clearly visible over the continents of Westeros and Essos (where Daenerys and the Dothraki are)even during daytime. It appears, with its bright south-east pointing tail, during the beginning of the war which tears Westeros apart. This is the time when Daenerys manages to hatch her dragons.
There are as many names as there are interpretations for this ominous heavenly body. It is called the ‘Dragon’s Tail’, the ‘Bleeding Star’ by the Dothraki, ‘Mormont’s Torch’ by the Night’s Watch and ‘Joffrey’s Torch’ by courtesans in King’s Landing. Riverland soldiers call it the ‘Red Messenger’, while others find it as the ‘Sword that Slays the Season’, announcing the end of a long summer. Gendry, always with his thoughts on steel and weapons, calls it the ‘Red Sword’.
Daenerys finds not only encouragement but reassurance in the comet, and decides that it is a sign meant for her to follow, which she does through the red wastes onto great cities. As Daenerys takes to sea from her final stop at Qarth, the comet slowly fades.
The comet provides a rather clever temporary unifying theme. Where did Martin come up with it? The inspiration, unsurprisingly, may have come from a real-life meteor which appeared almost a thousand years ago, in Norman times…
A historic event, the crowning of Harold, is depicted in the renowned Bayeux Tapestries, where members of the congregation at Harold’s crowning are depicted facing Harold but actually looking at a comet, in fact Halley’s comet. Harold himself is depicted in the tapestries as receiving new of the comet with fear.
Halley’s Comet appeared in 1066 and was widely taken to be an omen, although its meaning depended on who was watching. It turned to to be a bad omen for Harold. Another man with equal claim to the English throne, William the Conqueror, led the invasion of England in the same year and defeated Harold in the Battle of Hastings. Harold lost his life along with his two remaining brothers in the battle, while William had his foothold in England, allowing him to proceed inland and change history.
So the comet turned out to be an omen with different meanings to different viewers – a good one for William, and a deadly one for Harald. The comet is shown as red with a golden tail in the tapestries. Did G.R.R. Martin perhaps take inspiration from this historic event to create the ‘Red Word’ that means so many things to so many people?